Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 72, Issue 2, pp 131–147 | Cite as

Hydrothermal calderas

  • Olivier MerleEmail author
  • Stéphanie Barde-Cabusson
  • Benjamin van Wyk de Vries
Research Article


The standard model of caldera formation is related to the emptying of a magma chamber and ensuing roof collapse during large eruptions or subsurface withdrawal. Although this model works well for numerous volcanoes, it is inappropriate for many basaltic volcanoes (with the notable exception of Hawaii), as these have eruptions that involve volumes of magma that are small compared to the collapse. Many arc volcanoes also have similar oversized depressions, such as Poas (Costa Rica) and Aoba (Vanuatu). In this article, we propose an alternative caldera model based on deep hydrothermal alteration of volcanic rocks in the central part of the edifice. Under certain conditions, the clay-rich altered and pressurized core may flow under its own weight, spread laterally, and trigger very large caldera-like collapse. Several specific mechanisms can generate the formation of such hydrothermal calderas. Among them, we identify two principal modes: mode 1: ripening with summit loading and flank spreading and mode II: unbuttressing with flank subsidence and flank sliding. Processes such as summit loading or flank subsidence may act simultaneously in hybrid mechanisms. Natural examples are shown to illustrate the different modes of formation. For ripening, we give Aoba (Vanuatu) as an example of probable summit loading, while Casita (Nicaragua) is the type example of flank spreading. For unbuttressing, Nuku Hiva Island (Marquesas) is our example for flank subsidence and Piton de la Fournaise (La Réunion) is our example of flank sliding. The whole process is slow and probably needs (a) at least a few tens of thousands of years to deeply alter the edifice and reach conditions suitable for ductile flow and (b) a few hundred years to achieve the caldera collapse. The size and the shape of the caldera strictly mimic that of the underlying weak core. Thus, the size of the caldera is not controlled by the dimensions of the underlying magma reservoir. A collapsing hydrothermal caldera could generate significant phreatic activity and trigger major eruptions from a coexisting magmatic complex. As the buildup to collapse is slow, such caldera-forming events could be detected long before their onset.


Volcano Caldera Hydrothermal alteration Magma Ring fault Collapse 



This research has been funded by the French ANR project VOLCARISK (contract 06-CATT-013-04). John Stix and three anonymous reviewers greatly contributed to improve the first version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivier Merle
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stéphanie Barde-Cabusson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Benjamin van Wyk de Vries
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire Magmas et VolcansCNRS-IRD-Université Blaise PascalClermont-FerrandFrance
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Scienze della TerraUniversità di FirenzeFlorenceItaly

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